Episode 104: When Wine Makes You Sick: Myths, Science, Wee Beasties and Demons

Episode 104: When Wine Makes You Sick: Myths, Science, Wee Beasties and Demons

Steph and Val are answering a Burning Wine Question this week, and also launching an information session about the commonly demonized sulfites. There are many reasons for different reactions to different wines, so we address biogenic amines or proteins, “wee beasties,” and other theories as to why wine can sometimes not love us as much as we love it.

In Our Glasses:

Steph:  2010 Travaglini Gattinara DOCG – so this is a Nebbiolo from Piedmont, Italy. The producer is Travaglini. The bottle is totally unique. The wine is easy to find and not over-the-top expensive. I also found a fun blind wine tasting video of this wine. One more anecdote – what wine glass would you choose if pouring this wine? – assuming you have more than one glass to choose from, of course. I grabbed a Pinot Noir stem from Riedel last night.





Val: Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin, from Black Forest Distillers in Lossburg, GE. It’s made with 47 indigenous botanicals, like lingonberries! This is actually the one Karen MacNeil mentioned in Episode 66 that she was particularly fond of; of course this moved it to our “must try” column. The gin is certainly full-flavored, and Steph recommends that you go lightly with the mixers. It stands on its own as a delightful sipping gin and we absolutely love it!



Burning Wine Question:

This week’s burning wine question is from Jen Briney from the Congressional Dish.

Thanks, Jen!

So … wine makes her throw up, and not so much from excess. She finds that white wines, even a glass, makes her sick – but not so  much red or rose’.

Jen and Val at Podfest in Orlando

Now, we aren’t doctors, although Steph’s actually a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD). However, it must be said that we don’t play doctors on this podcast. So let’s get down to what we know so far.

First we have to ask, are there other conditions accompanying the wine consumption, such as a certain food? There are other compounds found in wine that can disagree with us, including our digestive systems, but sulfites are most commonly demonized.

And although we would definitely ask the doctor about this situation, the bells went off as soon as she said white wines. So when Jen mentioned this at Podfest, a natural first response was to ask her if dried apricots also make her sick in the same way.

The Sulfite Discussion: We’d be remiss if we didn’t go there first.

Why apricots? Because they, among other foods, especially processed foods, can contain 10 times the sulfite level of wine! Wines normally contain anywhere from 10 – 250 ppm of SO2).

So even though we cannot and will not say it’s the sulfites that make you sick, and there’s absolutely no scientific evidence to support the sulfite argument in its relation to headaches (particularly in red wine where histamines, LTP proteins and Tyramine can all be culprits), we thought we’d visit the sulfite discussion, because, frankly, we’ve yet to do that on this show.

So here we go!

Why did the bells go off when Jen said it was the white wines that made her physically ill? White wines actually can contain more sulfites than red wine, and here’s why: Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) is not only a naturally occurring byproduct of fermentation (about 10 to 35 or so ppm), but Potassium Metabisulfite is also used as an antioxidant, preservative, and antimicrobial agent – to kill wee beasties, as my biology teacher used to say.

Therefore, let’s be clear. ALL wines contain sulfites, but we don’t want to get too geeky into Total, Free, Molecular and Bound SO2. Additionally, red wines have those phenolic compounds found in the skins that protect the wines against oxidizing; whites do not. So it makes sense that white wines require a boost in protection, AKA, SO2. Sweet wines actually contain the most and are actually permitted, under EU law, to have a maximum of 400 ppm! This is because the sugars combine with particles of SO2 to “bind” them, thus requiring a higher ratio of Free SO2 (to the Bound SO2) to protect them.

There are people who are sensitive to Sulfites, this is true. If it’s a true allergy – about 1% of the population last we checked, then pretty much all wine is off the table.

So back to Jen’s question …

“Why do white wines make me sick?” It is a question for your doctor, but it wouldn’t hurt to be armed with any reactions you have to foods like dried apricots as well.

We’d also like to know what happens when Jen drinks bubbly or other white sparkling wines.  What about sweet white wines? Are there particular grapes, producers, and/or price points of these particular wines? The more specific the easier it is to narrow it down by process of elimination, which is often how a diagnosis is made. Heads up, as there are so many additives permitted in wine, and at the lowest price points they can resemble what many of us refer to as “chemical experiments.”

Way back in episode 19 we had a Society of Wine Educators conference recap when we came back from New Orleans. Steph talked about the presentation that Matilda Parente, MD @winefoodhealth gave. She points to a lot of research now on the biogenic amines (BA) in wine which can cause allergic-like symptoms. Biogenic amines (aka proteins) such as histamine, tyramine and others – come from grapes, yeast, winemaking, sur lie aging, age/storage. They are also found in many living things and they are not bad in small or reasonable quantities. It’s only when consumed in large amounts or by people who can’t break them down that they turn into a problem. When the body is overwhelmed by BAs, bad things can happen and one of the symptoms on the long list is gastrointestinal upset. So there’s that. Ugh.

Is there something Jen can do about the nausea and vomiting?

Well, Steph thinks so! We met another physician at Podfest last month, Dr Jacqueline Darna who invented the NoMo Nausea wrist band. Jacqueline is an anesthesiologist and the entrepreneur who created this anti-nausea wristband. The wrist band stops nausea, vomiting and headaches with acupressure, transdermal essential oil, and aromatherapy. Something worth investigating and trying as a preventative measure or treatment. I am definitely going to order two bands to have at my house for when the occasion justifies the experiment.

We hope this was somewhat educational, and we also hope it helps anyone who loves wine but, unfortunately, finds that wine doesn’t love them.

Also, we hope you’ll check out Jen’s extremely intelligent, educational and empowering show, The Congressional Dish (insert shameless plug here, because Val is a HUGE fan)!


Val: In late March I spoke at the Federally Employed Women (FEW) Rocky Mountain Regional Training Program. Not only was I honored to be among some dynamic and notable speakers, like Jill Tietjen of the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame & Technically Speaking, but some incredible women who are passionate about their service to the government and this country. I ended up spending the whole day there and got to hear all of the speakers, and enjoyed chatting with the attendees.

My shoutout is to all of you smart ladies making it happen for other women to follow in  your footsteps. To Krys, Linda & Shannon for inviting me and setting up the event, Jeri Peterson, Jennifer Johnson, Linda Broker & Ann Vanderslice for sharing your wisdom, and to Theresa and Joann at the table for sharing your stories and the enlightening conversation. What a fabulous day!

Wino Radar:

Registration for the Society of Wine Educators’ annual conference in Portland is open! Hurry your butt to get the seminars you want. Warning: it is not easy to choose between all the enticing titles and guest speakers.

Patreon Love:  

Thank you so much to our Patreon supporters! Sending out some Patreon Love to:

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Jeff E from the hilarious drinking show, We Like Drinking!


Lynn G from Savor the Harvest!




Sebastian S of Sassi Italy tours!



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